A wealth of didactic courses and robust clinical requirements often mean that nursing school doesn’t sync with study abroad.

But thanks to an $87,000 Jefferson Trust Award, the School’s global offerings are even richer—and within reach for even more nursing students.

Guided by Global Initiatives’ Director Emma Mitchell (MSN ‘08, PhD ‘11), assistant professor of nursing, the grant encourages creativity and community by wrapping students' educational and research experiences around sustained research projects overseen by nursing faculty alongside academic and community peers in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Bluefields—on the Caribbean side of the Central American nation—is home to Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) and the site of one of the School’s reimagined global initiatives. Rather than a "parachute in, parachute out" approach, explains Mitchell, the new study abroad "is a thoughtful and intentional way to engage with partners in a manner that's bilateral, productive, and truly based on a respectful partnership."

"Studying abroad changes things, opens up your perceptions."

Shernai Banks, CNL student, who traveled to Central America in July 2018

Built around a core of research projects that are mutually beneficial—disaster preparedness, emergency response, and cervical cancer screening—experiences are centered on locally determined needs and priorities. By offering student experiences several times a year, relationships and initiatives are nurtured across time without the connectivity gaps that sometimes plagued the old model.

Even with violence that, in 2018, beset capital city Managua, the partnership continues. UVA students will continue to have three chances to travel to Bluefields: a popular J-Term course focused on coffee growers and public health, a week-long community clinical opportunity, and a month-long summer experience. All nursing students studying in Nicaragua assist Mitchell—who studies the feasibility and acceptability of cervical cancer screening tests via telemedicine—in collecting and analyzing data and interviewing participants.

“Nurses should be culturally competent, open, and respectful, and sometimes we lose that, when we see someone so different from ourselves,” says Shernai Banks (CNL ‘19), of Philadelphia, who traveled with Mitchell to Central America last July. “But studying abroad changes things, opens up your perceptions. I’m excited to bring what I learned from them back to the United States.”

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